Wednesday, November 28, 2018


I knew this guy had to get a mention ahead of year end, having briefly invoked his spirit in an earlier post. But once again I fear I may be accused of subverting this theme, supposedly around ways to, if not to get well, to at least get better, so here I go, dredging up yet another allegedly drug-addled troubadour and his lullaby to papaver somniferum or some such. Of course you'd be wrong as, try as I might, I can't squeeze a narcotic reference out of the ethereally vague lovelorn lyric. And there are apparently many Pill Hills, notably in Chicago, areas of town with a hospital at the peak, surrounded by the houses of the support staff. So there.

Lanegan presents quite a contrast. His somewhat daunting appearance and edgy reputation seems to hide a real pussy cat, capable of producing beguilingly beautiful songs like this, certainly more often and reliably than the grungy thrashfests he looks as if he should be performing. And was, at the start of his career. I probably missed out on that part, he first coming to my attention in his duo with Isobel Campbell, herself fresh from a stint with sensitive Glasgow pastoral-pop vendors Belle and Sebastian. Whilst no great fan of theirs, I had picked up Campbells solo offering Milk White Sheets, her record of traditional songs and airs, enjoying it enormously. I hadn't appreciated then that she had already one album out with Lanegan, and would soon produce another. But I heard her, and nominally he, interviewed on a folk radio show. She could and did speak volubly about their music together, interspersed with a session from them, he nearly monosyllabic. However, as he sang, his sandpaper and stubble baritone gave a formidable weight to the songs, underpinning her delicate higher tones in ways that entranced me.

As is my wont, this was my hint to explore the back catalogue. Not all to my taste, his work with the Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age prove a little challenging to my genteel ears, if simultaneously reinforcing my realisation that his voice is a rare gift. And he has been always busy and/or restless, with always another collaboration simmering on one side, another direction pursued on another. So as well as those already mentioned, he has worked with Greg Dulli as the Gutter Twins (or, as well, in the Twilight Singers), Soulsavers, Moby and even Massive Attack, legendary Bristol trip-hop collective. In between time(!), there have been at least 9 solo albums, gradually incorporating ever more hues of electronica, fusing it with his old testament gravel and guts vocal. A good place to start would be either with last years Gargoyle, or Blues Funeral from 2012. (Links go to a song from each.) A more recent revisited collaboration is with protege and band member, Duke Garwood, a guitarist who uses the instrument, heavily processed and fed-back, to produce atmospheric soundscapes. While his own vocals provide suitably spare melody to these shimmers, guess whose makes them sound even better? With Animals came out earlier this year, but this, Pentecostal, is from Black Pudding in 2013.

I don't know how successful Lanegan is at home. Certainly he seems to spend a lot of time in Europe and seems to tour the UK at least once a year. I was lucky enough to catch him last year.

For the record, the song featured for this piece comes from his 5th album, Field Songs, dating from 2001, but helpfully came also as part of a thoroughly decent retrospective, Has God Seen My Shadow: An Anthology 1989 - 2011.

As a covers lover, I also want to give a nod to his many and varied appearances on tribute projects and soundtracks, for artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, the Kinks and the Velvet Underground. He also has a couple of records devoted to cover versions, with songs not always as expected. For 2015's Record Store Day he produced, again with Garwood, a terrific version of Needle of Death, written by the late great Bert Jansch, which just happens to be yet another druggy song, anti, as it happens, for this Remedies theme redux.) It isn't on YouTube so don't look. Have this instead, a reminder of what happens when the remedies don't work.......

If you have watched and listened to these featured clips, and via the links, you will have noticed a distinct trend, that of dissolution and the need for redemption, with the Massive Attack video being an especially galling view. I feel Lanegan knows and faces all these demons, or their reminders, on a daily basis, with the born again vigour yet stony blankness of a old west preacher with a gun.

Praise be!

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